Monthly Archives: February 2016

Ethical danger zones

dangerLast week I shared some articles about actions leaders can take to build and sustain ethical cultures. Here are some tips from the Society for Human Resource Management to help you know when it’s not working and your organization  might be entering a danger zone.

Conflicting goals: Unsustainable objectives or conflicting expectations can cause employees to lose faith in organizational ethics. For example, if staff are being asked to provide higher levels of one-on-one service while at the same time experiencing layoffs it can appear that values are in conflict.

Fear of retaliation:  Years ago I knew an organization whose leader had a history of removing people who disagreed with her. It only took a few examples for people to stop sharing their opinions. Even in less drastic situations, people can hesitate to advocate for ethical choices if they are afraid of personal consequences.

Avoidance:  For a variety of reasons, leaders sometimes put off dealing with ethical lapses. Allowing unethical behavior to continue sends a message to employees that adherence to standards isn’t a high priority.

Lowered thresholds: Ethical lapses usually don’t happen all at once. If one person routinely pushes the standards just a little bit, it’s easier for the next person to push it just a little further. Leaders can then find themselves dealing with a culture that allows questionable behaviors to occur.

Do you experience any of these ethical danger zones in your leadership work? How have you managed them?

Dee Anne Bonebright


Society for HR Management (SHRM): Creating an Ethical Workplace

The intersection of integrity and pride

by guest blogger Leslie Bleskachek

cslewis700208The author C.S. Lewis is credited as saying “integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.” This suggests we have an internal moral compass, a sense of purpose and pride in what we are doing. As educational professionals, we all take pride in what we do, and take pride in doing it well. But it’s important to remember that our pride can also have a dark side.

Pride can go too far. Sometimes, if we want to be in the spotlight, pride can keep us from giving public credit for a teammate’s great work. Or, perhaps we want to hide from scrutiny. As Marvin Williams said “there is no better test of a man’s integrity than his behavior when he is wrong.” Pride can get in the way if we are too proud to admit we’ve made a mistake. We might try and cover it up, or blame others to move the sense of shame from ourselves. Our Leadership Competencies remind us that to be a person of integrity, we must keep in mind where integrity and pride intersect. At our best, our integrity shows when we take pride in good work, are honest and law-abiding, delivering what we promised. But we also have to set aside our pride, admit when we make a mistake, correct it, and learn from it.

Perhaps it’s time to update that old saying, with apologies to C. S. Lewis. After all, integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching. . . and also when everyone is watching.

Leslie Bleskachek

Leslie is the Vice President Academic Affairs at Minnesota State College – Southeast Technical which has campuses in Winona and Red Wing, Minnesota. She is currently participating in the yearlong MnSCU Executive Leader Development Program. During the last seminar leadership integrity was discussed and Leslie asked to share her insights with the readers of Higher EDge.


Seven keys to maintaining integrity

integrity pen“I look for three things in hiring people. The first is personal integrity, the second is intelligence, and the third is a high energy level. But, if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you” – Warren Buffet

In December 2008, Bernie Madoff admitted to a multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme that sent him to prison for 150 years. Last week, like lots of other TV viewers, my husband and I watched the two-part series documenting Madoff’s fraudulent business practices. It provided lots of food for conversation about sociopathic behavior and yes, a lack of integrity in leadership. While Madoff provides an extreme example of someone lacking integrity, leaders can easily derail their careers when they fail to maintain their integrity. And it can be something as simple as letting your ego grow as you experience more success in your career.

So, how can leaders avoid derailment? Nancy Reece, senior consultant and speaker with The Human Capital Group, outlines seven keys for men and women who want to maintain integrity as they lead.

  1. Identify your core values. Ask yourself what mat­ters most in your life? Write down each of those values in your own terms then prioritize them. It’s easy to get off course and derail if we don’t have a moral compass for our leadership.
  2. Identify your Achilles’ heel. Every­one has a weakness. For Bernie Madoff, his weakness was power. Being raised in a poor Jewish community, he never wanted anyone to feel sorry for him, ever again. Identify your weakness, or the spot where there is a chink in your armor. Write it down in black and white and acknowledge your vulnerability.
  3. Play “what if.” Once you’ve identified your Achilles’ heel, imagine what would happen if you got caught. What would you say to your family? What would the headline in tomorrow’s paper be? A well-thought-out session of “what if ” can make real the potential consequences of falling prey to a lack of integrity.
  4. Enable “ketchup conversations.” Suppose you go out to lunch, eat a hamburger and get ketchup on your chin. You then go to meet with your direct reports in the afternoon. When you arrive home and walk through the door, your spouse says, “You have ketchup on your chin.” Your first thought is: “Why didn’t anyone tell me?” The better question for leaders to ask is this: “Did I create a safe space for someone to tell me?”
  5. Have courageous friends. Real friends have the guts and the courage to get in your face when they see you doing something wrong. Real friends are ones you can share your Achilles’ heel with. They will challenge you, encourage you, and be honest with you. Cou­rageous friends can help you maintain your integrity only if you are open and honest with them about your struggles, your weaknesses and your ego. They’ll let you know when you have ketchup on your face.
  6. Identify and counteract stress. Lead­ing involves constant challenges that can cause stress. The more stress we’re under, the easier it is to fall prey to your Achille’s heel. Being able to identify when you are experiencing stress and acknowledging that you are more vulnerable during this time builds protec­tive barriers that will enable you to lead with integrity.
  7. Become an integrity fanatic. Be passionate about doing the right thing. When you make a poor choice, don’t cover it up or put image first. Admit your mistake and make it right.

Which of the seven keys resonates most with you? Where might you want to focus your efforts to ensure that you are maintaining your integrity?

Anita Rios

Creating ethical organizational cultures




As leaders, we have two challenges when acting with integrity. The first is to demonstrate integrity on a personal level. The other is to help ensure an organizational culture that demonstrates integrity. I reviewed some articles on the topic. Here’s a summary of the key points.

Leaders are visible role models. When employees see leaders acting out their values, it sets the tone for the whole organization. Creating and maintaining standards, for themselves and others, is a key to maintaining organizational ethics.

Ethical expectations are clear and employees understand them.  New employees need to learn the organization’s values. All employees need training to practice applying those values. For example, MnSCU has an online Code of Conduct training course for all new employees.  As leaders, we could ask our staff members to review the course and then discuss key points during a staff meeting.

Rewards and recognition reflect the organization’s espoused values. There should be clear alignment between what the organization says it wants and what is recognized as successful behavior. For example, consider ways to publicly acknowledge individuals and teams with accomplishments such as providing services to underrepresented students or finding new ways to use limited resources.

Pepperdine University proposed the following formula to describe organizational ethics.

Virtuous Values + Aligned Action + Behavioral Standards/Codes –> Increased Ethical Behavior

How do you apply this with your teams?

Dee Anne Bonebright


Workplace Psychology: Creating an Ethical Organizational Culture

Pepperdine University, Graziadio Business Review: Creating and Sustaining an Ethical Workplace Culture

Society for HR Management (SHRM): Creating an Ethical Workplace



Carbon fiber and integrity

bike crashIntegrity matters, in biking and in leadership!

When carbon fiber bike frames were first introduced there were examples of “massive failures” as the frames shattered at high speed or when under pressure. That led to ugly crashes. The challenge was that the frames looked good from the outside yet they lacked internal structural integrity.

Same with leadership. Successful leaders must possess integrity along with their strong skills, competence and experience. In fact, it is their internal integrity, often hard to see at first, that keeps them successful during times of high demands and stress!

John Sporleder, Founder and President of Sporleder Human Capital, describes integrity as the unseen foundation that effective leadership is built upon. In an article titled “Leadership in the Workplace:The Importance of Integrityhe lists three crucial attributes that leaders with integrity possess:

  1. Stability: the ability to remain steadfast and true to your values despite the turmoil and volatility in the workplace or culture.
  2. Safety: a willingness to trust people and give them the benefit of the doubt when they try their own ideas. An expectation of openness and honesty.
  3. Reference: serving as a role model and example for others. Holding oneself to a standard of integrity for others to follow.

Felt bikeAnd yes, I now have a carbon fiber bike.

Internal integrity is not always flashy but it is powerful!

Todd Thorsgaard

What does integrity look like?

integrity compass“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

A couple of weeks ago at our Executive Leader Development program, the topic of integrity emerged in several discussions. Whether we were talking about executive communication, advancing diversity and student success, or dealing with adaptive challenges, participants commented how important it was to act with integrity in all situations.

Personal and professional integrity is at the core of effective leadership. It is also the leadership competency we will be discussing this month.

So what does integrity look like? Well, here are some of the behaviors that we’ve identified within the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities that demonstrate acting with integrity:

  • Demonstrates honesty
  • Abides by all relevant laws, rules, and regulations
  • Encourages others to do the same
  • Gives credit where credit is due
  • Delivers what is promised
  • Admits and learns from mistakes
  • Corrects mistakes to utmost ability

Specifically, integrity can translate into maintaining a culture that requires all employees to report unethical practices and behavior. Or it could mean making difficult decisions that align with your college or university strategies and values.

College and university leaders often have to make unpopular decisions to make sure that their institution stays viable during times of declining student enrollment and budget cuts. Closing programs and laying off staff and faculty are difficult realities in today’s higher education environment. Staying the course, especially when under fire, from takes great professional courage and can test your integrity.

What does integrity look like in your role?

Anita Rios